And what an eye-opening experience it's been.
When my best friend, Aiman, and I began thinking about immigrating to Canada in 2016, we made sure we didn't get too excited.
Both of us were Pakistani citizens — two twentysomethings from Karachi now living in Dubai. She had lived in the U.A.E. with her family for half her life and I had been there a few years when we struck a friendship.
It wasn't often that we saw young single Pakistani women immigrating to another country, way across the globe, to live all alone. We knew a lot of women from our country wanted to immigrate to Canada or the U.S., but even those with money and privilege often have to jump through hoops to make it happen.
For me, immigrating to North America was always an impossibility I'd forbid myself to dream about, and I would've never considered it had it not been for Aiman's unrelenting (and, sometimes, downright stupid) optimism.
Time was running out for me in the U.A.E. anyway as my visa was nearing expiry and I'd have to head back to Pakistan — something I did not want to do for personal reasons. We finally had enough saved up to take the plunge, and our families cheered us on throughout the process and told us to keep hope alive when things looked bleak.
Luck was on our side; a ton of attestations, stacks of forms, and unflattering passport-sized photos later, we were ready to board our flights to Toronto in 2018. I flew to Canada just days before my U.A.E. visa expired. And to say it's been a life-changing experience would be an understatement.
Not only was I new to Canada, I had never been to North America altogether. I did a bunch of research on Canada, its systems, people, and customs, but there were still several things that came as a surprise to me in the country I now call home. Here we go:
Black ice is no joke
I'd heard about Canadian winters being intense, but all I envisioned was walking through tons of thick snow and freezing winds. What I did not expect was the unassuming, hardly detectable obstacle that would plague my walks every winter — black frikkin' ice.
As luck would have it, I came to Canada smack in the middle of February and I landed on my butt twice in the middle of the street thanks to black ice. It took 40 minutes to complete a 10-minute walk.
It's been nearly four years and I still haven't figured out the best strategy to not get owned by black ice. After all five stages of anger, I've made my peace with it.
Dental isn't part of the whole free healthcare thing
I was super excited about the privilege of having free healthcare. And it's been great for the most part!
But the government of Canada and I seem to disagree on whether teeth are part of the human body, because dental isn't part of the package. One dental procedure wiped out one whole paycheque for me.
Tim's Double-Double is chaotically sweet
I had never tried anything from Tim Horton's before, but everyone I knew who'd been to Canada said I should just order a Double-Double. I bought a small Double-Double the day after I landed and the first sip felt like drinking coffee-flavoured candy! Not in a good way though.
I've never ordered it again, but classic coffee from Tim's tastes like home now.
The dogs. THE DOGS!
Did you know that 35% of Canadian households have a dog? Because I did not.
Pretty much every walk I've ever had here has been a pleasure because there are so many adorable pups being walked.
In Dubai and Pakistan, there aren't a lot of people who have dogs as pets, and so it makes my puppy-lovin' heart squeal with joy to see them all. Plus, because winters are next-level here in Canada, I've had the chance to see (and pet) so many Samoyeds, Alaskan malamutes, and huskies!
So many cities celebrate 4/20
I knew weed was legal in Canada, but finding out that several Canadian cities hold large gatherings every April 20 at precisely 4:20 p.m. to just smoke marijuana communally was a major surprise.
Coming from the U.A.E. — where half a joint in your pocket could get you jailed, fined, or deported — this celebration felt so unreal that it took me a couple of years to fully grasp how truly legal it is.
What was a criminal offence in all the countries I've lived in is a celebration here. What a time and place to be alive.
Peameal bacon is hands-down the best breakfast food
Hot take: peameal bacon deserves the global attention poutine gets.
I didn't know of its existence at all until last year when my friend prepped a sandwich for me and, and holy crap, it changed the GAME. I've never been a breakfast person, but I could eat peameal bacon every morning for breakfast for life.
It's simple, it's easy to make, and if you like savoury breakfast foods, you HAVE to try it. Trust me.
The whole accent stereotype is true
Whatever the world says about the Canadian accent is 100% true. Canadians don't want to admit it but they do say "eh" a lot. Yes, they also apologize by saying "soar-y."
Four years in, I'm aboot that life as well.
Don't bother with cute sweaters if you're in Toronto
Fall in Toronto is super short and unpredictable, so you'll rarely get to enjoy your autumn wear. All the suitcasefuls of adorable sweaters I paid extra to bring with me were pretty much always hidden under a puffy jacket, but on the upside, I felt like a mafia boss in all the fur-lined hoods I get to wear all winter.
Canadian street art is absolutely breathtaking
Street art doesn't often come up when you hear outsiders talk about Canada. I'm a huge art fiend, so this was a welcome surprise. Nearly every street in my first Toronto neighbourhood had graffiti and street art that was not only aesthetically pleasing, but powerful.
I thought that was just a Toronto thing, but I was swiftly proven wrong. Other Canadian cities, too, have political public art.
I've spent hours marvelling at huge pieces of Canadian street art and graffiti, and the ones that have a message behind them genuinely played a part in making me curious about Canadian political causes. Nearly everything makes you want to know more.
And it has... range.
I knew that Canada was pretty, but I didn't know people here were so funny, too!
Nearly every time you're out, you'll find something on the street that'll make you giggle. From parody election lawn signs to the Ministry of Silly Walks-inspired boards, there's always something interesting to take pictures of for your IG story.
You won't believe you're actually here
Whether you're enjoying stunning natural landscapes in Nova Scotia, waving ribbons at pride in Ontario, or chilling at the beach in B.C., you'll find yourself saying "I can't believe I live here."
It's surreal. I fall in love daily with the True North, and you will, too.